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Course Oral History and Life Stories (January-February 2015)

Course Oral History and Life Stories

Dates: 8, 15, 22 and 29 January + 5 and 9 February
Time: 13:00 – 16:30 hrs
Venue: 8, 15 & 22 January, Bungehuis – room 3.37 / 29 January PC Hoofthuis – room 5.59 / 5 February Universiteitstheater – room1.01A / 9 Februay University Library – Belle van Zuylenzaal
Coordinator & lecturer: prof. dr. Selma Leydesdorff and selected guest speakers
Open to: PhD candidates and advanced RMa students who are members of the Huizinga Institute
Fee (non-members): €250
Credits: 3 ECTS
Max. number of participants: 15
Register before: 1 December, 2014 (extended deadline)

The course

Historians and others who interview about the past often talk about memory and how they are informed by memory, while they know memory is a difficult and problematic source of historical knowledge. During this course we shall concentrate on the use of memory in historical research. We will investigate the various efforts to create a more systematic and theoretically grounded approach than ‘just talking about days long gone’. How can we create a research pattern that overcomes the incidental and replace it by acceptance of the changing character of spoken narratives about the past? We shall also compare spoken memories with other ego-documents, bearing in mind the many other existing and valid ways of interviewing about personal experience. We shall analyse the creation of a particular kind of knowledge, which produces alternative and unfamiliar viewpoints. As historical interviews ask a lot of research time, participants in this course will be asked to reflect on questions like: Do I really need interviews, what do I want to know, are there other ways to get this kind of knowledge?

General starting-point for discussion is the study of life stories in oral history as a tradition in the humanities and in the social sciences. In due course, additional attention will be paid to alternative modes of in-depth interviews. Particular issues to be investigated concern the questions of intersubjectivity; (self) reflection; identification with the Other and her/his past; and the interviewer’s role in the process of meaning/knowledge production. What are our responsibilities towards people we interview, do we have particular responsibilities in our research communities? What does it mean to be close to an interviewee, what happens if there is distance or when we don’t like what we hear? Do we have to agree with our interviewees?

Since oral history is part of the digital humanities and a special programme is developed by the Centre for Humanities and Technology special attention will be given to:

  • How to store results of research.
  • How to use existing audio/visual sources for new research.
  • The implications of new ways to do research.
Preparation, literature and assignments

The readings consist of various articles, informing on how to organise a larger interview project, discussing how to analyze interviews. The various stages of such a large project will be followed. The list of literature is updated annually. There are always guest lecturers who explain how they overcome difficulties during their research, while the course also discusses more theoretical approaches. An element becoming more important is the use of websites for the dissemination of narrated accounts and interviewing with the help of a camera.

As usual, advanced researchers who want to refresh their knowledge with recent literature and who want to bring their problems and subjects to the discussion will be welcome. They are asked to accept a status in which they are equal with other participants. Students will be asked to prepare commentaries on the literature.

Details about the reading list and other assignments will be announced in due course.

In order to prepare for the literature and the course, participants are asked to write a short motivation letter.

Motivation letter

Due to the limited amount of places available, aspiring participants will have to write a motivation letter. Selection of candidates will be based on this letter. This letter should contain at least the following elements: 1) a paragraph briefly outlining your current position and current research project; and 2) a brief paragraph outlining why participation in this course is relevant to your own research.

Note: the main criterion for admission is that oral history and/or memory form an integral part of your research project. Therefore, make sure to articulate this clearly in your motivation letter.

Deadline: 1 December, 2014. Send to: After the deadline has passed you will be informed as soon as possible about the final decision.

Testing and evaluative criteria

Will be announced in due course.


Will be announced in due course.

Credits & certificate

Certificates of participation and credits are available upon request after the event. The event coordinator will decide whether the participant has fulfilled all requirements for the ECTS. Please direct your request to and include the postal address you want the certificate sent to. Note: the certificate itself is not valid as ECTS, you need to validate it yourself at your local Graduate School.